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Bjarne Brøndbo, the employer who didn’t say no after the first attempt
Portrait

Bjarne Brøndbo, the employer who didn’t say no after the first attempt

| Text: Berit Kvam, Photo: Martin Hågensen

He stood there with his cigaret behind his ear, asking: Bjarne, where can I smoke? “That was the first thing he said to me,” says employer Bjarne Brøndbo. After a few hours he was ready to give up on the school dropout. He called the Labour and Welfare Service (NAV) and said he didn’t think it would work. Give him one more chance, said Randi Nyheim Aglen from the youth team. That was the beginning of a good story. What happened?

Bjarne Brøndbo, entrepreneur and head of car breakers and online car spares company Bil1Din.no gave the 17 year old one more week. He took him into his office and told him:

“I understand that you have no work experience. If you are to stay here I expect things from you. Let’s start with two things: you will be in work every day. The working day starts at eight in the morning. You must be here a little bit before so you are ready to start work at eight o’clock sharp, and you will work until four o’clock. And second: you will not have your hands in your pockets. These are your tasks for the first week. If you manage that we have come very far.”

That was the clear message from the employer, but the ten workers at the small car spares company had to back the move.

“Thanks to my not particularly sceptical workers who were willing to try this, he stayed with us for a while,” says Bjarne Brøndbo.  

Responsibility gave results

He tells us about a working environment which created a good framework for an insecure youth. They took time to talk to him, showed him trust and gave him responsibilities he could handle. Brøndbo’s wife, Lise Greftegreff, provided important support and safety for the boy. This gave results.

“Simply put, the boy was taken seriously. He was given the exact same opportunities as the others. He was given responsibilities he could handle. I didn’t expect different things from him than from any of my other employees. 

“So he very quickly understood that ‘wow, here’s someone who believes that I can do something. Here we have someone who is willing to give me responsibility without breathing down my neck’. And we did random tests.”

After a few months both the employer and the boy met the follow-up team. In Norway all under 25s who are not in work or education must be offered a tailored activity or training, and all under 21s should be offered the chance to finish their upper secondary education. A follow-up team is responsible for making this happen. 

So at one stage during the internship at Bil1Din all the parties were invited to a meeting: an advisor from the county council, a contact from the upper secondary school, and a person from NAV together with employer Bjarne Brøndbo and the boy himself.  Since the boy had twice dropped out of school, the follow-up team suggested a possible apprenticeship. But Bjarne Brøndbo, who by now knew the boy, had a different idea:

“I had discovered that the boy had changed completely after being with us, and I felt he had what it takes to manage what he wanted if he could be bothered. If the boy wanted to be a car mechanic, as he had suggested, a training practice certificate would not have been a good idea. My advice was therefore that if you want to become a car mechanic, you must finish your education and get a trade certificate. In the end the boy listened to someone he trusted, and that was me, so he said: OK, I go back to the car mechanic course at college again,” says Bjarne Brøndbo.

Well-known musician

He is not your average employer. As the lead singer in the rock band D.D.E. he is used to dealing with people. This has helped him now, he tells the Nordic Labour Journal:

“I am no jobs-worthy. I am better with people when I can use the skills I have gained over many years and through meeting a lot of people. So there is no teaching manual which I have learned from. This must be a win-win situation. We didn’t pay the boy, for starters. He got his salary through NAV, and that’s the way it has to be.

“We are also part of a project called ‘Ringer i vannet’ [Ripples in water], together with the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise and NAV, which aims to bring people back into working life. It could be a 50 year old who has worked for 30 years in the same company which suddenly goes bust, and who therefore has great difficulties getting back into working life.

“Next week we meet someone who might be starting work with us. It’s a win-win situation: we get good people, are allowed cheap labour for a while and we can recruit clever people after a trial period.

“We have had people on wage subsidy schemes for a while before giving them a permanent job, for instance one guy who is a trained car mechanic and who needed an internship. He had been off sick for eight months around the same time as he got his car mechanic certificate. He got a space with us and got a permanent job after two and a half months. He is a fantastic worker. 

What would you say to other employers who wonder whether this is something for them?

“I believe our kind of business is ideal; a car breakers. We need people to do everything from tasks where no previous skills are needed to more demanding operations. We have routine jobs which are repeated every day, every week, we have a sales department where you just sit at a PC. We can have a worker in a wheelchair. There are no limits.”

Flexible on absence

“What we have done, and I need to include my wife in this, is to simply be very clear that all our employees are very important to us. They’re important for the shop to make a profit and important for us to manage to deliver what the customer expects. We eat a hot meal together every Friday. Today I’m cooking for everyone at 12.30 and everyone will be there. We are very flexible when it comes to absence from work. We don’t keep a tally even if people are gone for a couple of hours, but we expect them to catch up somehow - although we don’t monitor whether they do. With only ten workers it is a bit more manageable than if we were a hundred. We are off to Gdansk on a company trip for two days. We have put together a simple professional programme where we’ll discuss how to better organise our work.”

What’s your advice to others running similar businesses?

“Take everyone seriously, listen and give advice. I also think it is crucial that the employer is open and doesn’t exploit the situation by thinking ‘let’s get an apprentice in to do all the dirty work for us’. Me and my wife Lise are proud that we’ve been able to help a boy who was struggling. You can call it idealism, even though we are also running a business. If you stop thinking about making as much money as possible, it is incredibly nice to be able to help one or more people get a good life, regain their self respect and a good social position that they are happy with.”

So what happened? The school drop-out is back in school and Bjarne Brøndbo still keeps in touch:

“Yes, I am a helping him out with his russe car [school leavers’ party vehicle]. Today he is a total star when he gets together with his gang, he’s a pal of THE Bjarne Brøndbo and gets his car parts for free."

 

Cooperation key to get youths back on track

“Cooperation is important when we want to help young people who have become idle,” says Randi Nyheim Aglen at the NAV youth team in Namsos. The youth team was established in February and is a priority for the NAV office.

“We offer tailored solutions and cooperate very well with employers like Bjarne Brøndbo. A good dialogue with employers is a necessary part of getting young people into internships. Many employers want to know that NAV can be there if the internship breaks down,” says Randi Nyheim Aglen. 

The youth team cooperates with the follow-up service in upper secondary schools. The follow-up service is responsible for getting school leavers back into education or other tailored training. The county council career centre can provide additional advice on which opportunities are available for young people. The aim is that no one is left with nothing to do. 

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